Recently, getting to know the new man in my life, I was browsing through his bookshelves and discovered he had all twelve of the Flaxborough novels. I knew instantly this man was for me, at least for the length of time it took me to reread these old favourites.
Colin Watson’s first crime novel set in the vaguely Lincolnshire market town of Flaxborough, Coffin, Scarcely Used, was published in 1959, the last, Whatever’s Been Going on at Mumblesby? in 1982 shortly before his death. A 1969 omnibus edition of the first three novels has endpapers that show a bird’s-eye view sketch of the town. There is the river, into which a body was tipped in 1972. There is Heston Lane where dwelt several of the town’s most respectable citizens until their sudden unexpected demise. There is Market Place, locus of the Friday market where in 1979 a carelessly driven car hit Constable Cowdrey as he was awaiting delivery under the counter of a pound of sausages. There also in 1977 did Robert Digby Tring meet his end by falling through the inexplicably unlatched door of a fairground ride, forty feet up in the air. And there is Jubilee Park where the drinking fountain erected to the memory of Lt.-Col. William Courtney-Snell JP was the meeting place of Lonelyheart 4122 and Lonelyheart 347 in 1967 and which several years later was blown up as a prelude to murder.
It isn’t quite the closed community of the Golden Age of Crime Fiction, but this town of 15,000 inhabitants is far enough from any city to form a world of its own, with a hinterland of seedy farms
and questionable manufacturies. Here live Justin Scorpe, lawyer; Barrington Hoole, optician; Leonard Leaper, cub reporter turned fanatical pastor. Walter Grope, commissionaire at the Rialto cinema, composes verse while herding the queues: ‘The river winds and winds and winds, / through scenery of many kinds’. On retirement he earns money writing ‘In Memoriam’ notices. Dozens of other fellow ci
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